Grand Teton National Park: Half-Day at Taggart and Bradley Lakes

Maybe it’s because I grew up near freshwater lakes, or maybe it’s because I don’t have great personal hygiene or something, but I didn’t shower after jumping in Jackson Lake.

I felt rejuvenated, refreshed, and wholly cleansed after the tough hike through Death Canyon and chilly glacier-water swim. I drove the hour south back to Jackson so Sam could enjoy the mountainscape for once. We blasted Local Natives and I let the air whipping in through the windows dry my hair. My mind and heart wandered to a peaceful, calming place.

Reality sunk in as we pulled into Jackson around dinner time. With the total solar eclipse less than 40 hours away, there was a noticeable uptick in traffic around the park. When we finally made it back to our hotel, we set off to buy a few more groceries to get us through the next couple days.

We weren’t sure what food supplies would look like as we headed west, into rural Idaho, for the eclipse. Surely there were hundreds—if not thousands—more people occupying this part of the country than normal. Would we even be able to find food at grocery stores or would they be bare?

We cooked up some quick tacos in the hotel room. (Since we don’t own a microwave, it always feels like a weird 1950s luxury when we get to use one.) After dinner, we tried to stay awake long enough to plan our next day.

There were two plans we considered for our last day in this region and we hadn’t made up our minds. Here were the options:

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Grand Teton National Park: Death Canyon Steals Our Hearts

Not gonna lie: I felt like a pansy for sleeping in a hotel after abandoning our campsite. I felt weak, I felt soft, I felt very un-wildernessy. I couldn’t face one of my biggest fears which made me feel like I wouldn’t experience this magnificent place in a natural way.

But honestly? All those feelings dissipated the morning after I woke up in that hotel in Jackson.

I felt like an entirely new person. I popped out of bed at the sound of the 6 a.m. alarm, packed up all our food for the day, and corralled a still-pretty-sleepy husband out the door—all in 45 minutes. We had a sunrise to catch!

Grand Teton Antelope Flats Sunrise - 6Grand Teton Antelope Flats Sunrise - 3Grand Teton Antelope Flats Sunrise - 2

Well, we mostly caught the sunrise. The sun was pretty high in the sky by the time we made it to Antelope Flats. The site was already crowded two dozen amateur and professional photographers. This historic Mormon community site is on the south side of the Grand Teton National Park, and the barns provide a quintessential sense of rustic living with the Teton range behind them. Photos of these barns show up all over the place if you Google Grand Teton. Even though it’s a little too “tacky postcard,” I’ll admit that it’s a pretty cool aspect of the park.

Grand Teton Antelope Flats Sunrise - 5Grand Teton Antelope Flats Sunrise - 4

Even so, the barns weren’t our main objective (shocking, actually, if you know me). Hiking was our primary goal and we wanted to get on the trail. Since we skipped the main Moose Junction visitor’s center the first two days in the park, we stopped in and asked about trail conditions for Paintbrush Canyon and Death Canyon: both recommended by Ryan, our Teton-insider friend.

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Grand Teton National Park: Hiking Near Jenny Lake and Cascade Canyon

Grand Teton National Park- Jenny Lake and Cascade Canyon

Don’t forget to check out part 1 and part 2 of our westward road trip!

Adrenaline kept me upright for the first few hours the morning after listening to the bear (or whatever it was) battering away at a fellow camper’s food locker. I’ll still never know if it actually was a grizzly bear, but I couldn’t help but think about Paul’s warning that they had a grizzly that visited the campground.

As we inhaled our half-cooked hash browns and overcooked scrambled eggs at breakfast—they were warm and the air was a brisk 35 or 40 degrees—-we pondered our plan for the day. It was only a matter of time before my high-strung bear anxiety dissipated and I entered extreme sleep deprivation auto-pilot. If there’s one thing that I need, for my own sanity and the sanity of those around me, it’s at least six hours of sleep every night. I would be operating far under threshold today, and we were expecting a grueling day of hiking, exploring, and further altitude adjustment.

The thought lingering in the back of my mind was that I would need to do it all over again for at least two more nights. We were debating staying at our campsite two more nights for the eclipse, making it a total of 5 nights in Grand Teton instead of our planned three nights. There was a solid chance this could shape up to be one of the most miserable trips of my life if I had to stick out five nights sleeping in a tent with a grizzly visiting the campsite every night.

Grand Teton - Hiking to Inspiration Point near Jenny Lake

We packed up and headed towards the park. Our plan was to hike String Lake around to Jenny Lake and up towards Cascade Canyon. When we parked the car, applied our sunscreen, loaded our packs with food and water bottles, and were just about to hit the trail at 8:45 am, we noticed a vital element missing. The bear spray. Sam remembered seeing it in the tent since we kept it there last night as a precaution, and it must’ve still been there. After the events last night and all the warnings we’d heard, there was no way we were hiking without a can of bear spray.

Continue reading “Grand Teton National Park: Hiking Near Jenny Lake and Cascade Canyon”

Grand Teton National Park: Signal Mountain and Camping Adventures

Grand Teton National Park- Signal Mountain Hike

Psst: looking for part one of this trip

We left Jackson with all our camping maps, making our way up to Moran Junction, far northeast of the popular Jenny Lake area of Grand Teton National Park. Per the US National Forest rangers, we drove east away from the park. A curvy road free from cars and filled greeted us with stunning views of the Blackrock Creek valley. Just when we were certain we took a wrong turn, we saw a sign indicating the Turpin Meadow campground was a mile ahead of us.

Turpin Meadow campground in Bridger-Teton National Forest near Grand Teton National Park

Instant relief overtook us when we saw a few open spots at this 18-site campground. We claimed a spot with plenty of shade, a fire pit (a huge relief: any fires outside pits were banned due to severe drought in the region), a sturdy picnic table, and a large bear locker for food. All smiles and joy, we unpacked everything and set up our beloved 2-person tent. The campsite was quiet enough to feel secluded from the masses in the National Park but there were enough people near us that we didn’t feel alone in the wilderness. This was a particularly important balance to me, as the presence of grizzlies made me feel queasy every time I thought about those big furry bears stalking around the woods. I tried to shake off my lingering bear anxiety and focus on how happy I was to have a campsite with other campers nearby.

Paul, the full-time campsite host at Turpin Meadow along with his wife Judy, greeted us and gave us the lowdown. He was frank about the presence of a grizzly in the area but said the bear never bothered anyone. Sam and I nodded, and I pretended to be ok with this information. We thanked Paul for the info and took off for our first hike in Grand Teton National Park.

Continue reading “Grand Teton National Park: Signal Mountain and Camping Adventures”

Hiking in the Land of the Pine: Memorial Day Weekend Adventure

Hiking in the Land of the Pine - A long weekend in eastern Tennessee and Asheville, NC

Just like that, we’re off again! After a travel hiatus (we’ve not gone anywhere since Maui last October), Sam and I are hitting the road tonight and heading down south to Tennessee and North Carolina for an extended Memorial Day weekend. 

We’re packing up our little car for a doozy of a road trip. It’s a little over nine hours to reach our friends Blane and Lisa—our hosts for the weekend—in eastern Tennessee. Their location in Greeneville is the perfect hub for reaching the Cherokee National Forest and Great Smoky Mountains National Park. What better way to spend the weekend than hiking in the mountains with good friends? It’s pretty much the only thing I want to do all the time.

That said, we won’t be hiking non-stop all weekend: Saturday will be spent in Asheville, NC at various breweries and distilleries. I’m not a fan of beer, but you’ll find me taste-testing many a whiskey and moonshine this trip. Everyone I’ve talked to about Asheville raves about it, so I’m hoping it lives up to my (very high) expectations. Let’s hope we can remember Asheville when we wake up on Sunday!

As usual, I’m always open to suggestions for things to do and places to visit! If you have any recommendations for hikes and restaurants in eastern Tennessee or Asheville (or a good pit-stop between Chicago and Tennessee), please let me know in the comments. I hope everyone has a safe, fun, and sunny holiday weekend!

Truth and Consequences in Portugal

Truth and Consequences in Portugal - Mo Stych Blog

A few weeks back, I entered the World Nomads Travel Writing Scholarship contest.

Even though I wasn’t one of the three winners selected from 8,000+ entries, I’m still happy I entered the contest. Of course, I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to take a free trip to the Balkans (because DUH), but more importantly, I’ve never entered a writing contest like this before. It was a great challenge for me, as it required me to hone my travel story into 2,500 carefully selected words. Plus, I researched the Balkans region a lot before submitting my entry and this part of the world is now high on my list of places to visit someday.

Since I’ve not had the chance to blog in a while, I wanted to share my entry here. You can also find it on the World Nomads site (and read some other submissions, too). I hope you enjoy it! (Note: the photos were not part of the submission, but I like them.)

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We’re standing on (what feels like) the hundredth hairpin curve, halfway to the Pena National Palace in Sintra, and my husband is ignoring me. Gasping for air, sweat soaking through our shirts, the tension between us is as palpable as the sweltering humidity. The shade from the tall trees does little to cool our overheated bodies and tempers. As we silently fume, another air-conditioned bus filled with happy tourists drones past us towards the apex.

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Stockton Island Camping: Our First Day Actually Backpacking

stockton-island-camping

I for one slept much better our second night at the campground. Sam said he heard the bear—or some other big, snorting, ominous thing—stomping around the tent that night, but I was essentially unconscious from the moment my head hit my stuff-sack pillow. We diligently packed everything up, sorted out our clothes and food for the overnight trip to Stockton Island, parked our car, and headed down the hill to our ferry.

We’d selected Stockton Island primarily for financial and logistical reasons. Of the 21 islands in the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Stockton had:

  • access to potable water
  • a ranger onsite
  • a ferry schedule that fit our timeframe
  • food lockers to keep bears away
  • the cheapest transportation option for getting to and from Bayfield

When we initially planned this trip, we were hoping to do island hopping and see a little bit of everything on a lot of different islands. The more we planned, we realized this wouldn’t be feasible unless we wanted to pay a buttload of money to private ferry companies. That wasn’t going to happen. We don’t have a private boat, so that wasn’t an option. Kayaking trips are a good solution for many visitors. However, we would rather hike for 4-6 hours instead of kayaking for that long in open water, so we ruled kayaking out pretty quickly.

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